Nationwide Darkness Worsens

  •  TCN explains power outages

Ejiofor Alike in Lagos and Chineme Okafor in Abuja

The epileptic supply of electricity across the country has persisted and is not likely to go soon as vandalism of pipelines has prolonged the perennial shortage of gas to thermal power plants, THISDAY has learnt.

This is coming as the System and Market Operation Departments of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) monday explained why Nigeria’s current electricity generation has remained quite low in recent weeks, blaming the situation on gas shortages to the generation plants in the southern part of the country.

TCN also explained that each time the country’s electricity generation falls below 3,500 megawatts (MW), there will be little power in the dedicated spinning reserve, hence the possibility of transmission system collapse.

THISDAY gathered that the country has witnessed persisted power outages in recent weeks after the much-celebrated all-time peak of 5,074 megawatts of electricity generation on February 2, 2016, following months of honeymoon enjoyed by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari with respect to pipeline vandalism.

THISDAY checks revealed that recent attacks on crude oil and gas pipelines may have signalled the end of the honeymoon and ushered in a period of darkness witnessed in recent weeks, as vandalism of gas pipelines disrupted supply of feedstock to gas-fired power generating plants, which account for over 78 per cent of power supply in the country.

The situation had worsened last Thursday when the whole country was plunged into darkness due to a nationwide system collapse.

The Chief Executive Officer of one of the electricity distribution companies (Discos) told THISDAY yesterday that during last Thursday’s system disturbance, the 11 distribution companies were only “on station supply” where they could not service their customers.

“When you are on station supply, there is no power to give to your customers. This is because some power plants went down due to non-supply of gas. The only power you get from the national grid when you are on station supply is what you will use to run your base radio. You can’t send it to customers,” the CEO, who opted not to be quoted, said.

He also blamed weak transmission network for the country’s current power woes, saying that only a super grid would solve the country’s transmission challenges.

“Transmission will continue to be a problem until the country has super transmission grid. Super transmission grid is a model transmission line that can take huge power. We need to construct super grid to reduce system collapse,” he added.

But a top official of the Nigeria Electricity System Operator told THISDAY that vandalism was responsible for the current drop in power supply.

“Gas pipelines have been vandalised and they are doing it continuously. Some plants went down last week because of lack of gas and it caused system collapse. So, it is really not a transmission problem,” said the official.
Also a Chief Executive Officer of one of the oil and gas exploration and production (E &P) companies, who did not want to be quoted, told THISDAY that the current poor power situation was caused by vandalism of the Forcados pipeline.

According to him, the problem of E &P companies was not the drop in oil price but production deferment caused by vandalism of oil and gas pipelines.

“Last year, we suffered almost 100 days of production deferment out of 365 days in the year. We are just beginning this year and we have suffered almost 50 days. All the companies using Forcados pipeline have not been producing since the past six weeks but they are doing all they can to evacuate condensate gas to keep delivering gas for power generation. If they have not been doing that, the current power situation would have been worse,” he explained.

The Trans-Forcados Pipeline, which is operated by Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC), belongs to the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

Shell had on February 21, 2016 declared force majeure on Forcados liftings effective 1500hrs (Nigerian time), following the disruption in production caused by the spill on the Forcados Terminal subsea crude oil export pipeline.

According to Shell, diving teams, which inspected the export pipeline reported extensive damage that was consistent with the application of external force, an indication that it was sabotage.

The closure of the oil pipeline, which also accounts for 40-50 per cent of the country’s gas production led to the current drop in power generation, THISDAY has learnt.

The pipeline is a crude oil facility, but the gas and liquid condensates produced from gas fields in the western Niger Delta are evacuated through the pipeline, hence its closure has also affected the supply of gas to the power stations.

However, the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, said the repair of the pipeline could last up till May.

TCN said monday that disruption of gas supply to power stations had resulted in the momentary total collapse of the electricity system last week when the country had zero megawatts of power for transmission and distribution.
The statement further noted that during that period, the Osogbo/Ihovbor and Ihovbor/Benin 330kV transmission lines were completely down.

“The Management of System Operation/Market Operation (SO/MO) of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) informs that at 12:35Hrs on March 31st, 2016, the Nigerian electric power grid experienced a total system collapse.
“It was caused by the tripping of Osogbo/Ihovbor and Ihovbor/Benin 330kV transmission lines, which resulted in loss of 201MW generation from Ihovbor power station,” said the statement.

It further explained: “The generation/load imbalance that ensued, defined by sudden decline in system frequency, culminated in the collapse”.

“Total grid generation at collapse inception was 3,196.0MW. The low generation at the time was due to shortage of gas supply to generators. The transmission grid is characteristically susceptible to system collapses when generation is below 3,500MW and the available spinning reserve capacity is low.”

TCN said it was working assiduously to consolidate the gains it recorded in system stability, and which it said resulted to substantial reduction of system collapses from 22 in 2013 to nine in 2014 followed by six in 2015.
“A substantial number of these collapses are attributable to low system generation due to gas supply issues which impacts stability.

“The improvement in system stability is also evidenced by the fact that TCN has been able to wheel maximum energy of 109,372MWH on 2nd of February, 2016 while the peak power transferred on the same day was 5,074 MW,” the TCN said while stating its regrets for the collapse.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) faction of Mr. Joe Ajaero monday in Lagos called on the government to address the socio-economic challenges facing the nation.

The Congress called on President Muhammadu Buhari to quickly fix the energy crisis, worsening unemployment situation, increasing suffering and deprivations that have become the lot of Nigerians.

Rising from its Central Working Committee (CWC) meeting presided over by Ajaero, with all National Administrative Council members and affiliates in attendance, the labour centre also urged the federal government to halt any further privatisation plan it might have to avert greater danger of poor performance by the electricity distribution companies (Discos).

“Electricity has become an essential commodity, public utilities have since gone to the dogs, staple food items’ prices are completely out of reach of the ordinary people, petroleum products have grown wings and vanished, compounding in the process an already bad transport system for the poor, reducing Nigerians in all parts of the nation to compulsory trekkers,” the Congress said.

The labour body bemoaned the current state of power generation which he said had plummeted to only about 2, 000MW, saying it showed the failure of government’s privatisation policy.

The NLC stated that going ahead with the privatisation of national assets such as Nigerian Railways and the NNPC, which government plans to unbundle, would portend greater socio-economic danger for the nation.
It, therefore, called for the withdrawal of approved licences issued to individual miners who have failed to commence operations long after the licences were issued to them.

Labour faulted government’s promise that it is going to deliver 10, 000 MW of electricity in four years, insisting that government lacks the capacity to do so since it must first build power stations to deliver on the promise.

“The average number of years to complete a power station is four years. We are not aware of any power station to be commissioned in the next four years. Even when you have 10, 000MW, you must have a transmission network that will convey the 10, 000MW,” said the Congress.

On the persisting scarcity of petroleum products, organised labour said that the only way out is for government to take steps to ensure that more petroleum refineries are built across the federation to boost supply of the products.

According to the President, National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Comrade Achese Igwe, “It is sad that 15 years after government issued licences to private individuals to build refineries, only one or two persons, including Alhaji Aliko Dangote are currently building private refineries.”

He urged government to review all those to whom licences were issued but do not have the capacity and commitment to commence the projects.

Also intervening in the current hardships being faced by Nigerians, a civil society organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has urged President Buhari to exercise his authority as the Minister of Petroleum Resources by prioritising the sector and coordinating government responses to the fuel scarcity across the country.

SERAP said the worsening fuel scarcity was exacerbating poverty and stripping millions of Nigerians of any real opportunity to exercise their human rights and take on responsibilities.

The Executive Director of SERAP, Adetokunbo Mumuni, in a statement monday said: “The longer this fuel scarcity continues, the greater the difficulties Nigerians will face. President Buhari now has to take control of the Ministry of Petroleum to end the continuing suffering by ensuring that fuel is available and properly distributed across the country.”

He added: “Nigerians need a permanent solution to the fuel crisis. Given the country’s status among oil producing countries, this government must not fall for the quick fix that characterised the policies of successive governments.”